FARMING: Pop Goes the Corn

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In his small movie theater in Hugo, Okla. (pop.: 5,909), Owner Allen L. Blunt was checking his books one night. He was astonished to find that the popcorn machine in the lobby earned almost as much as the box office. So with his twin brother Aimer L. he decided to try his hand at popcorn growing.*

They discovered that the hot, dry Oklahoma climate produced corn with little moisture content, that they could therefore capture the all-important early market (elsewhere, popcorn must go through a long and expensive dehydration process).

The Blunts formed the Red River Valley Popcorn Co., built a $25,000 processing plant, began urging Oklahoma farmers to plant popcorn instead of cotton or peanuts.

The war brought new markets : popcorn substituted for scarce candy, went over seas to lend a homey touch to military lite, was eaten in bars and cocktail lounges by a nation which was drinking with both hands. Result: unprocessed corn soared from the prewar price of $1.57 (for 100 Ibs.) to $3.86. From then on, Oklahoma farmers needed no more urging. Typical was 44-year-old Tom Earnest of Okfuskee County.' Tom Earnest had worked his way up from sharecropping "by trying things.

So he tried popcorn, 100 acres of it. Spring rains washed out 70 acres, but the croppaid off handsomely nevertheless. The remaining popcorn yielded $135 an acre (on land worth only $50 an acre) in weather that almost ruined Oklahoma's cotton crop.

Last week the Blunt twins were cashing in also. Their company started to process eight million pounds of popcorn this year, and will ship 90 carloads all over the U.S. And Oklahoma's bumper crop, worth about $1.5 million, is being pushed into second place among popcorn growing States (Iowa, which grows about 30% of the nation's popcorn, is first). There was only one catch: the Popcorn Processors Association, meeting in Chicago Nov. 30, has one main item on the agenda: finding new uses for this year's huge crop.

*Among others once astonished by pop corn: Christopher Columbus, who found the Indians popping it and using it for nake laces.